Tailspin: The People and Forces Behind America’s Fifty-Year Fall—And Those Fighting to Reverse It

Steven Brill. Knopf, $28.95 (464p) ISBN 978-1-5247-3163-2

A dysfunctional system serving an unaccountable ruling class is wrecking America, according to this searing sociopolitical jeremiad. Journalist and Court TV founder Brill (America’s Bitter Pill) traces a downward spiral of inequality, stagnating wages, expensive and substandard health care and schools, crumbling infrastructure, a “hollow economy” that jettisoned manufacturing in favor of low-paid services and high-paid finance, polarized politics, and a gridlocked Congress that panders to plutocrats and leaves everyone else unprotected. His intelligent, intricate analysis traces these problems to well-intentioned reforms that were turned into institutional “moats” that safeguard elite privilege: universities intending to level inequality ended up entrenching it; “due process” provisions to make federal rule-making fairer were gamed by special interests, from bankers to community groups, to block needed and reasonable government action; First Amendment absolutism regarding campaign finance gave pharmaceutical companies license to defy FDA regulations restricting the marketing of drugs for off-label uses; civil service reform ended corrupt patronage, but made incompetent bureaucrats untouchable; primary elections liberated candidates from party bosses, but enslaved them to zealots and rich donors. Despite his stinging indictment of lawyers, money men, and politicians, Brill still finds worthwhile possibilities everywhere, from innovative job training programs to campaign finance crusades. He brings both detailed reporting and wide-ranging perspective to this insightful account of how America reached its current state. Photos. Agent: David Kuhn, Aevitas Creative Management. (May)